BY ROMULUS HUTA
THE Solomon Islands national women’s soccer side is keen on extending their winning run at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup when they take on hosts Fiji this afternoon.
Dubbed as top of the table clash, Solomon Islands and Fiji have secured crucial wins in their opening matches on day one last Friday at Churchill Park in Lautoka.
The match between Fiji and Solomon Islands will follow the opening match between Vanuatu and American Samoa, two sides chasing their first points at the tournament this week.
Solomon Islands overcame American Samoa 2-0 in the opening match of the qualifier, which serves as the first step for Oceania towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, following a difficult 90 minutes for both sides.
Although the Melanesians eventually managed to get the game under control, it took them a while to settle into the flow of the occasion.
Coach Diane Justus said the side were aided in part by their mental strength.
“Our strength is technique-wise, ball work and mental fitness as well, that’s our greatest strength,” she said.
However she also acknowledged her side has weaknesses across the park that they were able to manage in the opening match, but will need to work on for their match against a more organised and ruthless opponent.
“We have some weaknesses especially on our attack and finishing, but also on our defence,” Justus said.
“The weaknesses we were able to share with the players and they improved in the second half.
“It’s not going to be as easy against Fiji as we’re playing the host and we might have more spectators too. But despite that we will work on what we can to manage the game.
“We’re looking forward to that match.”
Following the declaration of their intent against Vanuatu, Fiji are ready to continue pushing for their place in the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in November.
The side put five past Vanuatu, with three going to debutant 17-year-old Trina Davis, while conceding just one, a record they expect to continue going up against an equally ambitious Solomon Islands.
“We’ll take this next match as we took Vanuatu,” Fiji coach Marika Rodu said.
“As I’ve said, there’s no need to celebrate yet as we have further business to attend to.
“We’re on course. It’s a good start for us but we would like to continue building on our opening performance against Solomon Islands.”
Although his side scored five, Rodu said he expected them to be more prolific in front of goal given the opportunities which were created.
“We made a lot of mistakes, we could have utilised the chances we created. We went successfully behind the defensive line, but did not convert those chances into points.”
In the opening match Vanuatu and American Samoa have an opportunity to get their campaigns back on track after their respective opening losses.
After the highs of Pacific Mini Games gold, Vanuatu’s 5-1 loss to Fiji has brought the team back down to earth.
The side had periods during the match which showcased the squad’s talent, but they were too rare to inflict any damage to their opponents.
Coach George Kalo said concentration was a big factor in the performance and eventual result, which he hopes the players will remedy for Monday’s encounter.
“I respect American Samoa but I think my girls are good, I still trust them,” he stated.
“We will try to pick up on our weaknesses and also try to focus on that next game.”
Likewise American Samoa have some areas where improvement is needed if they really want to test their opponent.
While well organised most of the time, the team struggled with the pace of the Solomon Islands which eventually wore them down.
Coach Larry Mana’o said the side weren’t as effective in the offensive third as they should have been either.
“We had plenty of shots on frame – nothing the goalie had to do much about – but shots on frame and opportunities in the offensive third which was a vast improvement from the first half,” he said of the opening match.
“I think Solomon Islands counter attack game was pretty good in the first half so we made adjustments in the second half to slow that down. We were able to fix it, but each of the other teams might have something different.
“We need to look at how Vanuatu play and make some adjustments based on that because what we fix right now might ultimately not help us in the next game, but we’ll make adjustments as we see it.”
Meanwhile, the winner of the qualifiers will progress to the OFC Women’s Nations Cup happening in Noumea, New Caledonia in November.